The Sunday Mail
Dr Tawanda Zinyama
Devolution is one of the fundamental values of the new Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Section 264(2) explains the objectives of devolution of Governmental powers and responsibilities to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities.
Consequently, provincial and metropolitan councils are expected to initiate development programmes for their respective provinces, consistent with Section 264 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
In line with the dictates of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act of 2013, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has underscored the need for the country to fully embrace devolution as a strategy to facilitate rapid economic growth.
Government seeks to achieve upper middle-income economy status by 2030.
The major question confronting Zimbabwe is the legal and institutional design of a multi-level system of Government.
In particular, given that devolution is a constitutional issue, what powers and functions should be exercised by devolved units and how should resources be shared by governments placed at various levels?
Devolution is not an end in itself but a means to an end; that is, sustainable and equitable socio-economic-political development of Zimbabwe.
The spirit behind devolution is democratic participation by the citizens in governance and development initiatives that affect their communities.
This promotes equitable and just distribution and sharing of opportunities and resources by all.
It also ensures accountability and transparency in political, economic and governance issues.
Provincial and metropolitan councils that are weak and centrally controlled do not aid resolution of these governance weaknesses.
Public and fiscal sector reform implications of a devolved governance system appear not to have been properly thought-through, or if done, yet to be publicised.
There is no baseline clarity and actionable understanding of devolution, as envisioned in the Constitution, to inform policy and law reforms.
The legislative framework has a role to articulate, define and clarify the powers, functions, roles and relations among the various governance structures.
The arguments for local-level decision-making are strengthened if economic development is regarded as a function of the local bodies.
Local-level planning then becomes necessary not only to respond to the preferences of the people, but also to efficiently utilise the natural resources of the areas encompassed within each local body.
Planning, thereby, becomes a multi-level process.
Each level of Government has functions that are optimally taken up at its level.
Land and water management and locally specific services are best planned at the local level.
By contrast, centralisation inevitably leads to narrow departmentalism, causing duplication and lack of complementarity among the programmes at the ground level.
Democratic decentralisation contributes to improvements in the efficiency of implementation, particularly if the development process is made participatory and transparent.
This helps prevent misuse of resources and allows for better monitoring of programmes. Participation helps in tapping dormant local resources in the form of monetary donations, material contributions and voluntary labour.
In labour-surplus communities with disguised unemployment, community participation mobilises significant contributions of human resources to create social and physical infrastructure.
What is to be done?
Devolution requires a number of changes in administrative structure, allocation of functions, powers and control of resources.
The preconditions for successful devolution have to be put in place sequentially and with a clear demarcation of functions among the various levels of Government.
Administrative support structures have to be created by effecting institutional changes, generating an information base, training personnel and establishing horizontal linkages among various agencies and departments.
Awareness creation is also imperative.
Planning is a technical process that involves assessment of needs and resources, fixing of priorities, preparation of projects and formulation of plans.
Planning should be used as an instrument for social mobilisation in support of devolution.
This will ensure that correct decisions are made at the local level and to bring about certain attitudinal changes among participants.
Capacity to govern should be considered.
Local capacity to govern may be at its infancy in some provincial councils, and increasing the layers of decision-making without the checks and balances only increases the opacity of Government and taps into the already weak resource base.
Devolution can result in the loss of economies of scale and control over scarce financial resources by central Government.
Weak administrative or technical capacity at local levels may result in services being delivered less efficiently and effectively in some areas of the country.
Administrative responsibilities may be transferred to local levels without adequate financial resources and make equitable distribution or provision of services more difficult.
Devolution can sometimes make coordination of national policies more complex and may allow functions to be captured by local elites.
Also, distrust between public and private sectors may undermine cooperation at the local level.
Devolution of financial resources is limited by the absorption capacity of the nascent institutions.
It is almost a case of cutting the coat according to the cloth.
The ultimate argument for devolution over centralisation of Government is its informational supremacy in order to enhance the quality of life of citizens in those matters that can be delegated to lower tiers of Government.
However, this alleged supremacy of devolution over centralised Government hinges on two crucial assumptions:
- There must be a clear definition of what can be delegated at lower tiers of Government. On the inconclusive view, there is no clear delimitation on technical grounds what kind of service delivery of local public goods can be produced at what level of devolution. For example, refuse collection and roads construction may need different levels of decision-making and organisation.
- Most importantly, this supremacy of devolved Government is only guaranteed if the executive and legislative levels of the devolved units are considered legitimate or democratically controlled and accountable. This might not be the case.
Devolution should not jeopardise other functions of Government intervention; for example, the stabilisation and redistributive function of the State. On the redistributive side, in a country like Zimbabwe with regional differences in endowment, fiscal autonomy could lead to an under-investment and under-development in the poorer regions of the country.
Provincial and metropolitan councils’ activities must be geared towards supporting and enhancing the following economic parameters:
- productivity of small and informal industries;
- beneficiation of primary products;
- creation of new markets;
- creation of new ‘non-farm’ industries within rural economies;
- promoting business start-ups;
- investment promotion;
- fostering innovation;
- promoting new technologies; and
- infrastructural development.
When designing a multi-level system of Government, it is vital to ensure that there are specific rules, mechanisms and institutions to provide the accountability of various governments to the citizens.
Such mechanisms may include independent oversight committees, reporting systems, timeous and easy access to information.
Furthermore, the mechanisms include approval of resolutions of provincial and metropolitan councils, monitoring visits, performance barometer/checklists; for example, service delivery, budgets, compliance, corporate governance and capacity to generate and utilise revenue.
There is need to have comprehensive financial monitoring and reporting.
Section 298(1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe requires clear fiscal reporting at all levels of Government.
In terms of Section 35(7) of the Public Finance Management Act, within 120 days of the end of the financial year, every provincial council, metropolitan and local authority must submit to the Minister:
- a) an annual report;
- b) audited financial statements; and
- c) the audit report.
Training therefore becomes a critical component in upgrading competencies and skills of both staff and members.
Before bankrolling the devolution process, more needs to be done, including in the areas of legislation, policies and institutions and in building capacities and skills with which to drive such broad-based and devolved economic activity.
Dr Tawanda Zinyama holds a PHD in Public Administration and lectures at the University of Zimbabwe